Number of juvenile rape accused on the rise
If the youngest of the six accused in the December 16 gang-rape case in Delhi is proved to be a minor, he will just add to the growing number of juvenile rapists in India.
The number of juveniles arrested and accused in rape cases under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code went up from 858 in 2010 to 1231 in 2011, registering a 43.47 per cent year-to-year rise.
Besides, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, while 546 juveniles were arrested on charges of molestation in 2010, the number went up to 628 in 2011. The number of minors arrested for sexual harassment too rose from 174 in 2010 to 187 in 2011.
Five days after the 23-year-old woman was gang-raped in a moving bus in South Delhi, police arrested the youngest of her six tormentors from Anand Vihar near the national capital’s border with Uttar Pradesh.
Though he was initially perceived to be 17-year-old and was produced before a Juvenile Justice Board, police later got a bone ossification test conducted on him to correctly ascertain his age and determine whether he could get away with a three-year-term at a juvenile correctional facility or would qualify for harsher punishment as an adult offender.
He was in his early teens when he left home and almost snapped links with his fractured family. He worked at roadside eateries in East Delhi before starting working as a cleaner or helper in buses.
And, on December 16, according to the investigating police officers, it was him who started assaulting the young woman and her friend after they got on the bus at Munirka in South Delhi.
The socio-economic milieu he hails from is the same for many of the children who came into conflict with law across the country.
According to a report titled “Children in India” by the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, 57 per cent of juvenile delinquents belonged to the poor families with annual income up to Rs 25000.
While 27 per cent of child offenders come from families with annual income between Rs 25000 and Rs 50000, the share of juvenile delinquents hailing from middle income group (Rs. 50000–Rs. 200000) is 11%.
The report also revealed that 37.8 per cent of the juvenile delinquents had education up to primary level, 31 per cent had gone beyond primary level but dropped out before the secondary level, while only 13.11 per cent had education at or above secondary and higher secondary levels.
The involvement of the young transport worker in the recent gang-rape case in the national capital has triggered calls for reviewing the Juvenile Justice Act to ensure that the minors committing heinous crimes cannot get away with lighter punishment.
The maximum sentence prescribed by the Juvenile Justice Act for an offender aged below 18 years is a term of three years in a correctional home, irrespective of the gravity of the offence.
Two days before the gang-rape victim succumbed to her injuries in Singapore, Union Woman and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath said that the Juvenile Justice Act was being reviewed by the Government and a separate section might be incorporated into the legislation particularly to deal with heinous sexual offences committed by the minors.
But Anant Asthana, a lawyer specialising in Juvenile Justice Act, said that it would be unfortunate if the brutal gang-rape in Delhi was used as an excuse to amend the law.